One Planner Steps Into the Ivy
The man in charge of designing the biggest project planned for Manhattan is going to teach students lessons in real estate instead. How’s that for a sign of the times? It’s time to think about how to make tomorrow’s urban neighborhoods both resilient and pleasant- because the money to build tomorrow’s neighborhoods won’t flow for a while.
Vishaan Chakrabarti is the urban-planning analogue to Alex Rodriguez without the helmet-tossing, trysts with Madonna, or steroid use. (OK, he’s the urban-planning analogue to Derek Jeter.) After serving as a senior bureaucrat and a troubleshooting executive, he’s about to become the first chaired professor in a new real-estate institute at Columbia’s architecture school. Safe to say he’s bringing some failsafes, and some dashed dreams, about how to build high-density and pleasant urban neighborhoods on climate-ready infrastructure.
Chakrabarti’s move from the Related Companies, a huge developer, won’t affect that company’s biggest plans (the economy, once it recovers, will release them from their stasis). But it will affect the terms of debate. Chakrabarti knows how to plan and finance real estate so that it maximizes ecological hardiness without stinting on economic pep.
He went from a senior post in Manhattan’s planning bureau to Related, a huge apartment and retail landlord that owns the Time Warner Center among other pivotal properties. Related chief Steve Ross is a confidante of Dan Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor who labored to bring the Olympics to Manhattan, and Related now stands to develop a patch of state-owned land on the western edge of Manhattan, where the Olympic stadium would have gone, known as Hudson Yards. As the maestro for zoning and public amenities on that massive project, and on the effort nearby to reinvent the putrid Pennsylvania Station as a commuter and office hub, Chakrabarti became the rare planner who spoke in developers’ terms.
Though the two biggest projects he steered remain figments, Chakrabarti has made his mark. On his watch, Related hired visionary landscape specialists Michael Van Valkenburgh to create public spaces on the state-owned property, promising a surfeit of playgrounds that sop up rainwater while attracting parents and the retailers who ply them And the model for Moynihan Station, which the overhauled Penn will hopefully one day become, serves as a template for ways to build skyscrapers tall, efficient and alluring enough to command rents that subsidize the multiyear work of expanding regional train service.
Whether these are the only or even the strongest models for urban investment involves a series of open questions. Fortunate, then, that an insider is about to open them.
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